Brighten the winter scene with a simple brunch

When the temperature hovers at freezing and spring seems very far away is a good time to entertain with an informal brunch or breakfast. Omelets, quiche, pancakes, sausages, waffles, muffins, croissants, and piping hot beverages -- these are the kinds of foods traditionalists look for at the modern brunch, often more of an early lunch than a late breakfast.

Serving a brunch is an easy way to entertain, but whether you plan several dishes or just a few, the table should be bright and attractive with colorful china, pretty napkins, and place mats. A small bouquet of flowers or a bowl of fresh fruit makes a nice centerpiece that hints at spring's arrival just around the corner.

The following brunch recipes have been kept very simple by using some convenience foods and shortcuts. They're ideal for the working person who enjoys socializing without spending hours of preparation to do it. The brunch can be served buffet style so guests may help themselves.

It is up to the host or hostess to provide suitable nibbles, condiments, and relishes and to add more main dishes and desserts if desired. The following recipes will provide ample food for eight. Clam Juice Stinger 2 7 1/2-ounce bottles clam juice, chilled 2 12-ounce cans vegetable juice cocktail, chilled 2 tablespoons lemon juice Hot pepper sauce to taste Ice cubes (optional) Lemon slices or garnish wedges

In medium pitcher, stir juices and hot pepper sauce. To serve, pour into chilled 6-ounce glasses or cups. Add ice cubes, if desired. Garnish with lemon.

Makes eight 5-ounce first-course servings. Ham and Cheese Strata 6 to 9 slices white bread, quartered 1 pound ham, bacon, or sausage, cooked and chopped 1/4 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated 1/4 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated 1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced 1/4 cup onion, chopped 6 eggs 3 cups milk 1/2 teaspoon salt, optional

Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place bread on bottom of dish. Layer meat, cheeses, mushrooms, and onions. Combine eggs, milk, and salt in mixer or blender container and pour over top. Refrigerate overnight.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 to 45 minutes or until center is set. Serves 8. Bang-Up Baked Beans 2 tablespoons salad oil 3 medium onions, chopped 2 medium green peppers, chopped 1/4 cup packed brown sugar 4 28-ounce cans baked beans in New England-style sauce 4 teaspoons chili powder Salt to taste 1 teaspoon oregano 2 cups coarsely crumbled corn chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In 10-inch skillet over medium heat, in hot oil, cook onions and green peppers with brown sugar until tender, about 10 minutes.

In baking dish combine onion mixture with beans, chili powder, salt, and oregano. Mix well. Sprinkle with corn chips. Bake 45 minutes or until hot. Makes 12 1-cup servings. Cherry Coffeecake 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided 3/4 cup sugar, divided 1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 10 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted, divided 1/2 cup milk 1 egg 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon almond extract 1 can (21- or 22-ounce size) cherry-pie filling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 9-by-9-inch baking pan. In large bowl, with fork, mix 1 1/4 cups flour with 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt. Add 8 tablespoons butter, milk, egg, and vanilla. With spoon, beat until well mixed. Pour batter evenly in pan.

In small bowl, with fork, combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and remaining 2 tablespoons butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Sprinkle half on batter. Stir almond extract into filling. Spread over batter, then sprinkle with rest of flour mixture. Bake 1 hour or until top is light golden. Cut in squares. Serves 8 to 9. Party Meringues 1 egg white 2 tablespoons frozen fruit punch concentrate, thawed Pinch of salt 6 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup canned flaked coconut

In medium bowl with rotary beater or electric mixer, beat egg white, punch concentrate, and salt until stiff peaks form. Begin adding sugar 1 teaspoon at a time, beating well after each addition.

When sugar is well dissolved and mixture very stiff, fold in coconut. Drop in a swirl from tip of teaspoon onto very well-buttered cookie sheet about one inch apart. Bake in preheated 250 degree F. oven 25 to 30 minutes or until each swirl is firm and lifts easily with spatula. Cool on plate. Makes about 20.

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